The first recorded permanent inhabitant of the Cayman Islands, Isaac Bodden, was born on Grand Cayman around 1700. He was the grandson of the original settler named Bodden who was probably one of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers at the taking of Jamaica in 1655.
The islands, along with nearby Jamaica, were captured by, then ceded to England in 1670 under the Treaty of Madrid. They were governed as a single colony with Jamaica until 1962 when they became a separate British Overseas Territory and Jamaica became an independent Commonwealth realm.
The largely unprotected at sea level island of Grand Cayman was hit by Hurricane Ivan on 11- 12 September 2004, which destroyed many buildings and damaged 70% of them. Power, water and communications were all disrupted in some areas for months as Ivan was the worst hurricane to hit the islands in 86 years. However, Grand Cayman forced a major rebuilding process and within two years its infrastructure was nearly returned to pre-Ivan levels. The Cayman Islands have the dubious honour of having experienced the most hurricane strikes in history. Due to the proximity of the islands, more hurricane and tropical systems have affected the Cayman Islands than any other region in the Atlantic basin (brushed or hit every 2.23 years). The Cayman Islands enjoy a high global standard of living fully dependent upon tourism and tax-haven dependent banking.
The Cayman Islands are located in the western Caribbean Sea. They are the peaks of a massive underwater ridge, known as the Cayman Trench, standing 8,000 feet (2,400 m) from the sea floor, which barely exceeds the surface. The islands lie in the centre of the Caribbean south of Cuba and west of Jamaica. They are situated about 400 miles (650 km) south of Miami, 180 miles (300 km) south of Cuba, and 195 miles (315 km) northwest of Jamaica. Grand Cayman is by far the biggest, with an area of 76 square miles (197 km²). The two "Sister Islands" of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are located about 80 miles (130 km) east of Grand Cayman and have areas of 14 square miles (36 km²) and 10 square miles (25.9 km²) respectively.
All three islands were formed by large coral heads covering submerged ice age peaks of western extensions of the Cuban Sierra Maestra range and are mostly flat. One notable exception to this is The Bluff on Cayman Brac's eastern part, which rises to 140 feet (42.6 m) above sea level, the highest point on the island.
Cayman avian fauna includes two endemic subspecies of Amazona parrots: Amazona leucocephala hesterna, or Cayman Brac Parrot, native only to Cayman Brac, and Amazona leucocephala caymanensis or Grand Cayman Parrot, which is native only to Grand Cayman. Another notable fauna is the endangered Blue Iguana, which is native to Grand Cayman. There is also the agouti and the Booby Birds on Cayman Brac.
Many of the prominent and wealthy families in Grand Cayman such as the Waltons, Scotts, Kirkconnells, and Fosters are originally from Cayman Brac. They control a large proportion of real estate property and business enterprises, and have significant positions in the financial sector.
The capital and major city of the Cayman Islands is George Town, which is located on the south west coast of Grand Cayman.
The economy of the Cayman Islands was once centred around turtling. However, this industry began to disappear in the twentieth century and tourism and financial services began to become the economic mainstays during the 1970s. The United States is the Cayman Islands' largest trading partner.
With an average income of around $42,000, Caymanians enjoy the highest standard of living in the Caribbean. According to the CIA World Factbook, the Cayman Islands GDP per capita is the 12th highest in the world. The islands print their own currency, the Cayman Islands Dollar (KYD), which is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a fixed rate of 1 KYD = 1.25 USD.
The government's primary source of income is indirect taxation - there is no income tax or capital gains tax or corporation tax. An import duty of 5% to 20% is levied against goods imported into the islands. Few goods are exempt; notable examples include books, cameras and infant formula. The government charges licensing fees to financial institutions that operate in the islands as well as work permit fees for expatriate employees ranging from around US$500 for a clerk to around US$20,000 for a CEO.
One of Grand Cayman's (GCM) main attractions is the world-famous Seven Mile Beach on which a number of the island's hotels and resorts are located. Seven Mile Beach is regarded by many as one of the best beaches in the world. Historical sites in GCM such as Pedro St. James Castle in BoddenTown also attract visitors. The Sister Islands - Little Cayman and Cayman Brac - also supply their own unique charm.
The Cayman Islands is regarded as one of the world's best SCUBA diving destinations because of its crystal-clear waters and pristine walls. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are also elite SCUBA dive destinations. There are several snorkelling locations where tourists can swim with stingrays including the popular Stingray City, Grand Cayman. Divers find two shipwrecks off the shores of Cayman Brac particularly interesting including the MV Keith Tibbetts.
Other Grand Cayman tourist attractions include the Ironshore landscape of Hell, the 23-acre marine theme park Boatswain's Beach, also home of the Cayman Turtle Farm, the production of gourmet sea salt, and the Mastic Trail, a hiking trail through the forests in the centre of the island. On Cayman Brac, a lighthouse and a few local museums are tourist draws. Little Cayman's wildlife attracts nature lovers, especially bird watchers in search of the island's Red-footed Booby population.
Art and Culture are other features of the Cayman Islands that attract international attention. The National Museum and National Gallery preserve contemporary and dated art works of local and international talent. A Cultural History Exhibition is displayed within the museum, and teaches patrons about historical customs and traditions native to the Cayman Islands. The Gallery sponsors eight exhibitions every year and is located in the Harbour Place in George Town.
The Cayman Islands are the fifth-largest banking centre in the world; with $1.5 trillion in banking liabilities. They are home to 279 banks (as of June 2008), 19 of which are licensed to conduct banking activities with domestic [Cayman based] and international clients, the remaining 260 are licensed to operate on an international basis with only limited domestic activity.
One reason for the Cayman Islands’ success as an offshore financial centre has been the concentration of top-quality service providers. These include leading global financial institutions (incl. UBS and Goldman Sachs), over 80 administrators, leading accountancy practices (incl. the Big Four auditors), and offshore law practices (incl. Maples & Calder and Ogier).
Since the introduction of the Mutual Funds Law in 1993, which has been copied by jurisdictions around the world, the Cayman Islands have grown to be the world’s leading offshore hedge fund jurisdiction. In June 2008 it passed 10,000 hedge fund registrations, and over the year ending June 2008 CIMA reported a net growth rate of 12% for hedge funds.
Starting in the mid-late 1990s offshore financial centres, such as the Cayman Islands, came under increasing pressure from the OECD for their supposed “harmful” tax regimes, where the OECD wished to prevent low-tax regimes from having an unfair advantage in the global marketplace, and thus be harmful to the economies of more developed nations. The OECD threatened to place the Cayman Islands and other tax havens on a "black list" and impose sanctions against them. However the Cayman Islands successfully avoided being placed on the OECD black list in 2000 by committing to regulatory reform to improve transparency and begin information exchange with OECD member countries about their citizens.
The Cayman Islands had previously (briefly) appeared on the FATF Blacklist in 2000, although its listing was thought to be harsh, and was criticised at the time.
In 2004, under pressure from the UK, the Cayman Islands agreed in principle to implement the European Union Savings Directive (EUSD), but only after securing some important benefits for the financial services industry in the Cayman Islands. As the Cayman Islands are not subject to EU laws, the implementation of the EUSD is by way of bilateral agreements between each EU member state and the Cayman Islands. The government of the Cayman Islands agreed on a model agreement, which set out how the EUSD would be implemented with the Cayman Islands.
A report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in March 2005, assessing supervision and regulation in the Cayman Islands' banking, insurance and securities industries, as well as its anti-money laundering regime, recognised the jurisdiction's comprehensive regulatory and compliance frameworks. "An extensive program of legislative, rule and guideline development has introduced an increasingly effective system of regulation, both formalising earlier practices and introducing enhanced procedures," noted IMF assessors. The report further stated that "the supervisory system benefits from a well-developed banking infrastructure with an internationally experienced and qualified workforce as well as experienced lawyers, accountants and auditors," adding that, "the overall compliance culture within Cayman is very strong, including the compliance culture related to AML (anti-money laundering) obligations.
A Governor is appointed by the British government to represent the monarch. The governor can exercise complete executive authority if they wish through blanket powers reserved to them in the constitution. They must give royal assent to all legislation, which allows them the power to strike down any law the legislature may see fit for the country. In modern times, the governor usually allows the country to be run by the cabinet, and the civil service to be run by the Chief Secretary, who is the Acting Governor when the Governor is not able to discharge his usual duties for one reason or another. The current governor of the Cayman Islands is Stuart Jack and the current Chief Secretary is The Honourable George McCarthy, OBE, JP.
The Cayman Islands Civil Service College, a unit of Cayman Islands government organised under the Portfolio of the Civil Service, is also located in Grand Cayman. Co-situated with University College of the Cayman Islands in a building on the south side of the campus, the intent of the CICSC is offer both degree programmes and continuing education units of various sorts. Further, the college is planned to develop as a government research centre. It opened in autumn 2007.
Health insurance is handled by private insurers and a government-run company (CINICO). There is no universal health coverage as in the UK. All employers are required under Law to provide Health Insurance for their employees (although the employee may be required to contribute 50% of the premium). Full time employees also contribute US$10 every month to the "Indigent Fund", which helps cover care for the unemployed, elderly, and other groups in need of monetary assistance.
Currently the islands lack facilities for cardiac catheterisation, though many feel the population is large enough to support the procedure. Various attempts to establish a cath lab in George Town Hospital have stalled. The Cayman Islands lacked an MRI after one was destroyed during Hurricane Ivan, but in July 2007 a new unit was installed at the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital.
For divers and others in need of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, there is a two-person recompression chamber at George Town Hospital on Grand Cayman, run by Cayman Hyperbaric Services. The same organisation has built a hyperbaric unit at Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac.
The Cayman Islands presently imposes a controversial ["rollover"] policy in relation to expatriate workers who require a work permit. Non-Caymanians are only permitted to reside and work within the Territory for a maximum of seven years (non-renewable) unless they satisfy the criteria of key employees. The policy has been the subject of some controversy within the press. Law firms have been particularly upset by the recruitment difficulties that it has caused. Other less well remunerated employment sectors have been affected as well. Concerns about safety have been expressed by diving instructors and realtors have also expressed concerns. Others support the rollover as necessary to protect Caymanian identity in the face of large immigration of expatriate workers. Concerns have been expressed that in the long term, the policy may damage the pre-eminence of the Cayman Islands as an offshore financial centre by making it difficult to recruit and retain experienced staff from onshore financial centres. Government employees are no longer exempt from this "rollover" policy according to this report in a local newspaper. The governor has decided to use his constitutional powers, which give him absolute control for the disposition of civil service employees to determine which expatriate civil servants are dismissed after seven years service and which are not.
This policy is enshrined in the Immigration Law (2003 revision), written by the UDP government, and subsequently enforced by the PPM government. Both governments agree to the term limits on foreign workers, and the majority of Caymanians also agree it is necessary to protect local culture and heritage from being eroded by a large number of foreigners gaining residency and citizenship.
Though the Cayman Islands are involved in no major international disputes, they have come under some criticism due to the use of their territory for narcotics trafficking and money laundering. In an attempt to address this, the Government entered into the Narcotics Agreement of 1984 and the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty of 1986 with the United States, in order to reduce the use of their facilities associated with these activities. In more recent years, they have stepped up the fight against money laundering, by limiting banking secrecy, introducing requirements for customer identification and record keeping, and requiring banks to cooperate with foreign investigators.
Due to their status as an overseas territory of the UK, the Cayman Islands have no representation either on the United Nations, or in most other international organisations. However, the Cayman Islands still participates in some international organisations, being a full member of the Central Development Bank, and an associate member of Caricom and UNESCO, and a member of a sub-bureau of Interpol.